Text of Bishop Fulton Sheen on Draft Document on Missions

This is a translation of the speech which Auxiliary Bishop Fulton J. Sheen of New York, national director in the U.S. of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, delivered in the Second Vatican Council on Nov. 9, 1964. The council was debating the schema on the Missions.

Paul VI, reigning as a missionary pontiff, has suggested to the council that our schema be polished and developed. Let us do this, at the same time granting to every member of the commission the right to choose his own “expert.”

In place of the theological question “What are missions?” I would suggest that we turn to the practical question: “Where are the missions?”

Are the missions exclusively in those territories where there are non-Christians? Or are the missions also in those regions, where there are few priests, few churches and great poverty?

The simple answer to this question is: The missions are both.

I am a servant of the missions under the Propaganda. But during three sessions of this council, many bishops who are living in great poverty, come to my seat in the council hall. They come from territories which are not under the Propaganda, but from areas where there are only seven to ten priests to care for 50,000 square miles.

I ask: Is it Christian? Is it Catholic? Is it worthy of the charity of Christ to say to them: “You do not belong to mission territory?”

Is it not true that the doctrine of the collegiality of bishops imposes on us a missionary responsibility, not only for territories which were defined as missionary 300 years ago, but also “for the salvation of the whole world”? (Number 4 of the Schema)

Why does Paul VI, reigning as a pastor, in his encyclical letter Ecclesiam Suam so rarely use the word “mission”?

What other word does he use in its place?


And he uses that word 77 times. To him dialogue is the showing of the love and charity of Christ to all men.

We bishops in this council must not enter into a dispute about what is a missionary territory and what is not, or who belongs to this congregation or to that congregation, saying: “I am one of Paul’s men,” “I am one of Apollo’s,” or “I am one of Cephas’”; while someone else says “I owe my faith to Christ alone.” What are you saying? Is there more than one Christ? (1 Cor. 1:12).

Let us not be like the priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan, who passed by the wounded man saying: “He does not belong to our congregation.”

In the Body of Christ there are no “new churches,” there are no “old churches,” for we are all living cells in that Body dependent on one another.

It is souls, not territories, which make the missions. The missions must not be the one aspect of the life of the Church which admits of no aggiornamento.

What God has joined together — the Church and the missions — let no schema separate.

The true Catholic solution to this problem of the diversity of missions is to be found in Number Four of the schema, where there is proposed a “Central Council for Spreading the Gospel.” This council transcends all juridical distinctions about congregations and gives flexibility to missionary effort, according to diverse circumstances.

Let no one fear that he will receive less aid if some help is given to a needy brother. In the early Church, just as soon as there was “one heart and one soul,” then they began to “consider all property in common” (Acts 3:32). Furthermore, if we share, then as we read in the Epistle to the Corinthians:

“He that gathered much had nothing over. He that gathered little had no lack” (2 Cor. 8:15).

One of the conciliar Fathers has asked that all reference to poverty be taken out of this schema.

I beg you most earnestly, Venerable Fathers, that the notion of poverty be strongly affirmed in this council.

Put your finger on the 30th Parallel; run it around a globe of the earth, lifting it slightly above China. What do you find?

Practically all of the prosperity is above the 30th Parallel, and the greater part of the poverty of the world is beneath the 30th Parallel, that is in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

As chastity was the fruit of the Council of Trent, and obedience the fruit of the First Vatican Council, so may the spirit of poverty be the fruit of this Second Vatican Council.

We live in a world in which 200 million people would willingly take the vow of poverty tomorrow, if they could live as well, eat as well, be clothed as well, and be housed as well as I am — or even some who take the vow of poverty.

The greater number of bishops in this council is living in want or in persecution, and they come from all peoples and all nations.

As only a wounded Christ could convert a doubting Thomas, so only a Church wounded by poverty can convert a doubting world.

If we have an ecumenical spirit to brothers that are outside the Church, then let us have an ecumenical spirit to brothers who are inside the Church. Let us be charitable about the missions, remembering that the Lord who said: “Go teach all nations” (Congregation of the Propaganda) is the same Lord who bewailed: “I have mercy on the multitudes” (Latin America).

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One Response to Text of Bishop Fulton Sheen on Draft Document on Missions

  1. monk johanan says:

    Bishop Sheen was a saint who could find a pound of gold in a swamp!

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